Category Archives: discipleship

When Questions are Your Company

It’s funny. In the toddler years, I expected the near-constant series of “Why?” from my curious children. Yet, I am learning that the teenage years and the adult years are equally marked by lingering, loitering questions. While the questions may be less constant, they make up for the infrequency with the increasing sobriety attached to them.

Teenagers and adults, on the whole, are less interested in the mechanics that make the sky blue or the reason for the chameleon’s colors. They want to know why God made them this way, why a good God allowed evil, why life isn’t fair, and a litany of other significant questions. As a curious learner who loves certainty, I like the former questions far more than the latter.

It seems God is far more comfortable with our questions than we are most of of the time. After all, God saw fit that the earliest recorded book of the Bible was the book of Job: a raw, reeling account of questions, first from a deeply confusing man and then from a compassionate yet transcendent God. Likewise, God graciously provided us with the questions posed by so many psalmists and prophets: Why do the nations rage? How long, O Lord? Why does the wicked renounce God? Will you forget me forever? How long, O Lord, will you look on? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook? (Pss. 2:1; 6:3; 13:1; 10:13; 13:1; 35: 17; Jer. 15:18).

Their Spirit-inspired and sovereignly-recorded questions serve as pavers to lead us through the weeds of confusion and heartache back towards the presence of the God who can handle our questions.

Far from being signs of lack of faith, these questions are often a right response to living in a world where what we know to be true about God doesn’t seem to square up with a crooked reality (from our limited, finite perspective). It would be more alarming if we were not asking these questions when we see, feel, and experience dissonance during our exile on earth.

Three Literary Helps When Questions Are Your Company

Lately, three very different writers have helped me feel less crazy in my sea of questions. They, along with the aforementioned prophets and psalmists, have been my company among in the land of questions marks.

In her book Suffering Is Never For Nothing, Christian writer Elisabeth Elliott reminds her readers that our reflexive question of “Why?” when suffering wreaks havoc in our hearts and homes is a gentle reminder that we aren’t the product of chance. If we are merely evolving organisms, why does not make sense, especially is there is no supernatural Creator ready to receive our questions and attempts to make sense of brokenness and pain.

In his book The Town Beyond the Wall, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel offers us an invitation to listen as Michael, the protagonist (who is also a Holocaust survivor) seeks to make sense of insensible evil. After surviving the concentration camps, he finds himself imprisoned in a Soviet town on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. In his cell with him is a devout Jew, Menachem, whose friendship and encouragement keeps him from losing his faith in God altogether. Though Menachem does not have answers, he continues to bring his deep, knotted questions into the presence of God. When Michael accuses him of blaspheming by asking such hard, honest, direct questions of God himself, he responds, saying, “I prefer to blaspheme in God than far from Him.”

Later, after Menachem has been released, Michael begins to understand the lesson his friend taught him as he seeks to help a younger prisoner. He writes that man must “as the great questions and ask them again, to look up at another, a friend, and to look up again: if two questions stand face to face, that’s at least something. It’s at least a victory.”

As believers in Christ, there is ample room for two people full of questions to look at one another and sit with each other in their questions. Sharing our questions and inviting others in to the mysteries which have us wrestling is a victory that honors our God. When my sons comes to me with a hard, “Why is this happening?” question, at best I can meet him with my own question and usher us into the presence of the God who will one day replace every question mark with an exclamation mark.

Lastly, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tinkers, Paul Harding’s thoughts about uncertainty have given me great solace as I wrestle with my own feelings of dis-ease and uncertainty.

“Your cold mornings are filled with heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace towards you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty.”

I love thinking about God using our uncertainties and even our deepest wrestlings to believe to draw us into deeper grace. The more we wrestle with him, the more intimate we become with him. Questions do not have to break our fellowship with God; refusing to bring them to him creates the distance, not the presence of the questions themselves.

If questions are your company right now, remember that you are in good company. Find a friend who will sit with you in the question and gently prod you into the presence of the One who invites our wrestling (if you are not sure, just ask Jacob who literally wrestled with the angel of the Lord).

Bringing questions to God shows faith, not a lack thereof. Press on, weary friend. He will come to us as sure as the sweet spring rains. What he has torn, he will heal. What he has stirred (or allowed to be stirred), he will settle.

“Come. let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains water the earth” (Hosea 6:1-3).

God answers our questions with a loving question of his own:

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My compassion grows warm and tender…for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9).

Paparazzi: Posturing Ourselves to Experience God’s Presence

I have limited experience with paparazzi, but the amount of time I spend glancing at the National Inquirer in grocery lines is enough to gather the basics.

There are people who spend a great deal of time studying and stalking the lives of high profile people simply to steal a fleeting glance or an off-center camera shot. They know the rhythms and preferences of the subjects they seek to find – the coffee shops, malls and vacation destinations they frequent, the times they get up and go to sleep and other seemingly extraneous details – in order to get a passing glance at said subject.

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Last night I studied Psalm 119. When I first came to faith, I loved this psalm for its fierce excitement, zeal and resolve. The psalmist makes many bold, sweeping declarations of intent.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to the Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. Psalm 119:9-14.

As I have grown in the knowledge of my own inability to keep even the most well-intentioned resolutions, I have grown an aversion to Psalm 119. As I reread parts of the psalm, I found myself alternating between waves of confusion and conviction.

Does the gospel fit into and speak into a psalm with so much focus on law and decree and statute? The psalmist saw only parts of redemption, so what applies to us on the other side of the full revelation of God in the gospel? Are we to be as giddy and excited about the law and the commands as the psalmist? If so, why aren’t we? What sentiment, what state of soul and longing caused the psalmist to pen this meticulous psalm?

It seems that the answer to the latter lies in the deep longing of the writer to know and please God, to live every aspect of life under His smile and steady gaze.

In the time he was writing and musing, the law was the clearest manifestation of the character of God; the commands were merely extensions of the character of God. One can learn a significant amount of information about someone by studying their preferences and aversions, their passions and their pet peeves.

It seems to me that the psalmist was obsessing about the law out of an even deeper desire for and obsession with the God who spoke them. A deep desire for God’s pleasure and presence led him to make vows about keeping His word and following his law down to the littlest detail. It is as if the psalmist is saying, “If this is what God loves, then I want to love it; if God detests this, then I will avoid it at all costs. If God says these are the pathways He frequents, then I want to stay on those paths so I can experience His nearness.”

If this is the case, how does Christ inform this psalm? Is it nullified as an antiquated attempt to please God who cannot be pleased apart from the perfect life and undeserved death of Christ?

When the law-loving Jews of his day questioned what Christ’s life and bold declarations of diety would do the law, the answer came straight from the mouth of Christ himself: “I did not come to abolish the law, but the to fulfill it.”

We don’t get to toss Psalm 119 into a trash heap of ill-informed, immature theology, though our flesh, mine included, would love to do so.

If the psalmist, who only knew bits and pieces of the character and will of God, desired him so deeply, how much more should we, who have the fullest revelation of his character on the cross where love and justice kissed?

In the commands, we have glimpses into the preferences and aversions of the king who loved us enough to live and die for us while we still abhorred him. In the gospels we get a crystal clear, color image of what was a fuzzy, black-and-white image to the psalmist.

We do not obey the commands to find acceptance with God; our acceptance with God was secured for us by Christ. That being said, we do not ignore the law or His commands. Rather, we resolve to follow His commands as they are the clear paths God loves to frequent, the places we are most likely to see and experience Him in this life.

Seen in this light, purity becomes a favorite coffee shop where glimpses of God can be captured; humility becomes a sure fire place where one will find God’s nearness; dying to selfish desires in order to serve others who may not deserve service becomes a regular hangout for the presence of God.

In light of the clarity of God’s character in the cross, we have incredible motivation to want to be the paparazzi of His presence, those who do whatever it takes to be where God frequently shows up.

Entangled

Every once in a while, I delve into reading about something that is far beyond my mental scope. It’s almost like forcing my brain to run a mental marathon (and remember that people who live in these lanes are way out of my intellectual league). Just as it is healthy to push our bodies to their limits, it is healthy to stretch our minds.

In such an ambitious state, I picked up Louisa Gilder’s fascinating book The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics was Reborn. Unlike most physics-related books, she sought to tell the stories of the conversations and interactions between the key players in the quantum era (names you probably recognize if you took chemistry or physics courses in college: Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger, et al).

While I cannot say that I fully understand (or even remotely understand) the complex atomic realities into which these men were delving their entire lives, I can say that I am more in awe of the God who created such an intricate, seemingly inexplicable world. The more the most brilliant minds sought to understand the world, the more they realized that human language, even numbers, simply cannot capture the nuanced and quirky (or should I say quarky) realities sewn into the very fabric of the universe.

The entire book revolves around the debate over quantum entanglement, a strange phenomenon that cannot be explained by the classical model of quantum physics (supported by Bohr and an entire cast of his cronies). Einstein, Schrodinger, and a few brave others continued to insist that the long-range entanglement of particles long after a brief interaction, proved that our traditional understanding is gapped, at best. In fact, Einstein died trying to figure out a unifying theory that would teach us the relationship between the traditional model and the quantum model.

Entangled with God, Either in Enmity or Intimacy

The concept of the unseen, but very real entanglement of the smallest units of matter shouldn’t surprise believers (even those, like me, who don’t claim to fully understand it). After all, our God exists outside of time, yet he chose to step into time to interact with those whom he created with a mere word. He is not the disinterested clockmaker deists would have us believe. He is actively, eternally-engaged in his creation, even down to the level of electrons and quarks.

As I read Gilder’s book, I was simultaneously reading a very different book which talks about a very different form of entanglement: The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God by John Frame. While the physicists are trying to describe the strange entanglement of particles, Frame is speaking of the entanglement of people to their Creator. God is Creator and therefore authority over all created matter (his transcendence) yet he is involved in his creation in intimate ways (his immanence). God draws near in space, but he also draws near in time. In the words of Frame, “God is unavoidably close to His creation. We are involved with Him all the time.”

In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul says something similar to the truth-seeking pagans gathered in the Areopagus. “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar to ‘the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made my man…” (Acts 17:22-24).

The writer of Hebrews also acknowledges the omnipresent, omniscient God “with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13).

The lives of believers and non-believers alike are tangled up with God. Denying him (atheism) or claiming a hung-jury (agnosticism) does not change the reality that our lives are entangled with the God of the universe. There are two ways to experience this entanglement: enmity or intimacy.

When we refuse to accept the reality of the Lordship of God, we are locked into enmity with him. Even if our words don’t say that verbally, our lives are entrenched in enmity. We are going against the grain of the universe and fighting a losing battle. According to Frame, unbelief is eventually found to be exhausting and infuriating, “a self-frustrating task,” because in unbelief of God we are trying to do that which is impossible: set up another not-god (even if it is self) as God.

The life of a believer, however, is intended to be a life of intimacy with God. Going with the grain of the universe and acknowledging reality as it truly is, believers are invited into a relational knowledge of and interaction with our Creator. In bending the knee (and more importantly the heart) before him, we acknowledge him for who He is and experience the entanglement of a loving Father.

These thoughts, far from being purely theoretical, have wide-ranging implications in our daily lives. When I think of those whom I love who deny or seek to ignore God whether actively or passively, I long for them to know the glorious reality of the entanglement of intimacy with God. In my own life, I want to enjoy his active-involvement in my life rather than chafe against it in stubbornness.

This God with whom we have to do is the Lord of heaven and earth, but he is also the suffering servant who died on our behalf. That he would entangle himself with our affairs, even when we stood in enmity against him, this is a wonder beyond all wonders!

What Scares Me Most this Halloween

San Diego takes Halloween deathly seriously. One of our neighbors starts decorating his home over two months before Halloween, slowly transforming his yard with massive, homemade themed decorations. Grim reapers abound, as do every size and texture of spider. But they are not what scare me most this year.

This year, my heart is most scared about the ho hum attitude we have towards mass shootings and physical violence done to political adversaries, as if these were par for the course.

This year, my heart is most scared about what we will do to other image-bearers in a week’s time when elections stir up all our inner crazy. I fear that, even as believers in Christ, we will forget to heed the Apostle Paul’s warning, “But if you bit and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:11).

This year, my heart is most scared for the twenty-something generation so desperately screaming, “More life!” that they flock towards crowded streets for experiences that lead only to more death. Emptied and disillusioned as many of them are by the vacuum of truth in which they were raised, their extreme need to chase life and experience to keep up with Insta-images scares me and brings tears to my eyes. I want to shout to them the timeless truths of the Scriptures: “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply” (Ps. 16:4) and “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love: (Jonah 2:8).

This year, my heart fears our collective ability to see and magnify (in order to cancel) the mistakes and failures of others while being comfortably complacent with our own. We have become experts as assessing splinters and ignoring logs (Matt. 7:3).

This year, my heart is most scared by my own sin. I see my own fear over situations I cannot control (especially as my children become teenagers) and it fills me with more fear. I see my own hunger for man’s approval and it deeply frightens me. I see the amount of selfishness even in my obedience to God, and it causes me to shudder.

What Strengthens Me This Halloween

If I were to leave myself in this massive pool of fears I would be no different than our present news outlets. But, thanks be to God, fears press the believer more deeply into an anchored hope. When fears loom large, our hope can loom larger.

My mind has been meditating upon the Heidelberg Catechism, Question One.

“What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

“That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

When the news leaves me dizzy, this comfort holds true. When circumstances seem to spin out of control, this comfort holds true. When political enmity boils over and spills into our streets, this comfort holds true.

I can think of nothing better to offer my soul, the souls of my children, and the souls of the younger generations than the good news of the gospel.

The Love that Fights Against Me

We love the biblical idea of God fighting for us. We love quoting Moses standing with his back to the Red Sea and his face towards the approaching Egyptian army: “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be silent” (Ex. 14:14). We rightly love to reference another set of words by Moses to the people of God:

“And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people and shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory’.” (Deut. 20:2–4).

Yet, we struggle to receive and cling to the reality that the same love that fights for us is also deeply committed to fighting against us.

Love that Stands Against My Sin

I’ll never forget something my husband said to me during our first year of marriage. We had come to an impasse (which is a euphemistic way of saying that we were in a bit of a disagreement). I think I said something alongside the lines of “I need to know that you are for me” to which he wisely replied, “I am for the Spirit in you, but I am against your sin and your flesh.” In the moment, I don’t think I liked his response very much; however, the reality of a love that would stand against me and my sin has deeply shaped me and helped me understand God’s fiercely faithful and faithfully fierce love for his children.

Now that I have children, I can better understand the ferocious side of love. While I am not generally a yeller, I have yelled loudly at my children to protect them danger. I remember crying as we disciplined our very young children for touching the stove. And now, as my children are becoming adolescents, my husband and I have had to keep them from things they have deeply desired to protect them from harm. I will never forget the story of a father friend of ours. His daughter was in the depths of depression which was leading her to seek escape in rebellion and substances. In love, he would sleep in front of the front door to offer himself as a physical barrier to that which would cause her lasting harm.

An Unsettling Promise

I was stopped dead in my tracks yesterday when I was reading the book of Jeremiah. At this particular part in the book of the weeping prophet, Jeremiah has recently been imprisoned and tortured by the priest in the house of the Lord for speaking truthful (but very hard-to-swallow) words from the Lord. God’s people simply wanted nothing to do with the truth that would check, challenge, and convict them in their sin. Their spirit is summarized in one verse:

Then they said, “Come, let us makes plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, not counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us strike him with the tongue and let us not pay attention to any of his words” (Jeremiah 18:18).

Later, when Babylon began to attack them, they conveniently decided they would like to hear the word of the Lord again (as if God and his prophets were lucky rabbit’s feet to be rubbed when desired). God sent Jeremiah back to the same priest who had tortured him with these startling words, “I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath” (Jer. 21:5).

God refused to relent and yield to his people’s desire for prosperity and security apart from him. He loved them too much.

A Deeply Settled Love

For those who are in Christ, God’s wrath has been poured out upon Jesus. He drank the cup of wrath down to its dregs. Thus, God does not punish his children. The Holy Spirit, does, however, stand against them in their sin, waging war against the remnant of flesh that lives within us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (Gal. 5: 16–26). Just as Jesus loved Peter and therefore rebuked him when he had his mind set on the things of the earth rather than the things of God, God will lovingly rebuke us through his discipline (Matt. 16:23; Heb.12: 3–11).

If God allows us to be wounded or corrected, it always comes from his scarred hands and issues from his deeply settled (and publicly-shown) love for us.

Martin Luther wrote the following about the loving correction of God:

“When God sends us tribulation, it is not as reason and Satan argue: ‘See there God flings you into prison, endangers your life. Surely He hates you. He is angry with you; for if He did not hate you, He would not allow this thing to happen.’ In this way Satan turns the rod of a Father into the rope of a hangman and the most salutary remedy into the deadliest poison. He is an incredible master at devising thoughts of this nature. Therefore, it is very difficult to differentiate in tribulations between him who kills and Him who chastises in a friendly way.”

If we are buffeted and checked by the Spirit of God who wars against our indwelling sin, this is ongoing proof of our place as true daughters and sons. Receive his fierce love as marks of ownership from the Father.

All Without an Asterisk

In a world prone to hyperbole and full of lofty promises bound to disappoint, it is easy to grow cynical and become distrusting of words.

But God’s words are both sure and pure, making wise the simple (Pss. 12: 6; 19:7). Distrust is a wise disposition towards self and the world, but a dangerous disposition toward God.

All the Alls

As I have been studying the Word lately, all the alls have stood out to me. It’s such a small word to carry such a huge connotation. A lot hangs on such a small word. Below is a small sampling of the”all” verses upon which I have been meditating:

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corin. 9:8, emphasis mine).

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8: 28, emphasis mine).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinth. 1: 3–4, emphasis mine).

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”(2 Pet. 1:3, emphasis mine).

“For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corin. 1:20. emphasis mine).

Incredulous Hearts

if I am honest, I often approach these alls with a squinting, searching, cynical eye. It’s hard to turn off the tendency to want to read the fine print hidden underneath promises.

My flesh wonders if all grace would abound to me even if I lost a child or received a cancer diagnosis. My flesh assumes that the God of the universe could not possibly care about the common trials of my day. My flesh tells me that there is scarcity, not abundance, in God’s provision. I buy the same lie that baited Eve: God is withholding.

My flesh finds it hard to believe and receive the reality that God’s all means all without an asterisk. No fine print. No hidden clauses.

But God’s all means all. He does not lie. He never changes. Even when we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

All Without an Asterisk

We live in a batteries-not-included world 
Offering inflated promises (with fine print).
Over-hyperbolized, we doubt promises;
Incredulous, we search and we squint. 

Our God gave all with one small asterisk-
Forbidding that which would cause harm.
Dangerously deluded, we dared disobey,
Initiating pain we could not disarm.

We ruined all without an asterisk.
Our sin sent shockwaves near and far. 
Self-bent love leaves indelible stains.
It’s notorious for its ability to mar. 

He gave all without an asterisk,
Coming as man to take on our curse.
He spilled his blood and offered his life,
In his own body the curse to reverse.

He asks all without as asterisk – 
Full submission without reserve.
Trembling trust is a fitting response 
To costly love we don’t deserve. 

He provides all without an asterisk- 
We have full access to all that we need.
In seeming lack, we still have Him:
The high priest who lives to intercede.

We are called to trust him entirely because he gave himself entirely.

Isolation: the Ultimate End of Cancel Culture

Long before Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, C.S. Lewis understood where cancel culture led. In The Great Divorce, his fictional depiction of Heaven and Hell, Lewis paints a picture of serial conflict that leads to further and further isolation in the cities of hell. Lewis had no way of knowing how accurate his description would be regarding our current culture.

Moving Away From One Another

While traveling on a bus going from Lewis’s creative depiction of hell for a visit to heaven, the main character gets into the following conversation with a long-time inhabitant of the hellish city:

“The part of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”

“Not at all,” said my neighbor. “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbors – and moved. So he settles in…He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again…

“They’ve been moving on and on. Getting further apart….Millions of miles away from us and from one another.”

While we do not have a physically expansive and inexhaustible place like the hell-town Lewis described, we do have the internet. This technology, which does have its positive contributions and capacities, provides a seemingly inexhaustible, albeit two-dimensional, way to separate ourselves from others with whom we disagree or whom we greatly dislike.

Algorithms are not ultimately to blame, though they certainly stoke the flames of our sinful desire to separate and isolate. Left to ourselves in our fallen state and captive as humanity is to the prince of this age, we tend toward isolation when hurt, misunderstood, or misaligned with others (2 Corinth. 4:4). When Paul was contrasting the works of the Spirit with the works of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians, he included “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions” among sorcery, orgies, and drunkenness as evidence of the flesh (Galatians 4:20-21).

The Enemy loves to divide and separate, while the Spirit seeks to unite and bind. There is, of course, a command to be separate from evil doers and to separate the immoral brother; however, even then, such actions are to stem from a deep desire to see the parties with whom we are in conflict (over clear Scriptural commands) brought to full repentance and restoration (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

The Scriptures have much to say about the dangers of being quarrelsome and quick-to-separate. When people hurt us (which they most certainly will) or when we disagree with a brother or sister on matters of political opinion or conscience (which most assuredly happens on the daily), it is our flesh’s knee-jerk response to want to create distance from them. Distance breeds further distrust and miscommunication. As such, it is easy to recreate, at least in our hearts, Lewis’s description of astronomical distances.

Moving In, Not Away

To live among one another, to hurt and be hurt by one another, to see the world differently even from our own brothers and sisters in the faith, are inevitabilities this side of glory. Apart from the binding, humbling, convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we have no hope.

But with the Third Person of the Trinity, illuminating the Scriptures to us and acting as a search light in the dark recesses of our own hearts, we stand a chance to fight the clarion call of cancel culture. The discomforts of disagreements and disappointments, when we resist the urge to flee from them and the relationships that occasioned them, can serve to press us more deeply into the gospel. Rather than moving out and away, God can use these to press us further down and into Him.

Rather than make the other our enemy, we remember the enemy of our souls (Eph. 6:12). Even more importantly, we remember that we long stood as enemies of the Cross (Rom. 8:7-9), offending and disappointing God. As those who have been forgiven much, we have much forgiveness and grace to mete out to others (Luke 7:47). If God has closed the eternal breach between us and him, he can help us to close much smaller distances between us and those with whom we disagree on secondary or tertiary matters.

Disagreements compel us to move. By the power of the Spirit, we have a choice to move away from one another (following the lead of cancel culture) or to move more deeply into dependence upon God to biblically and sacrificially love those with whom we do not see eye to eye.

Opportunities Found Only This Side of Glory

As Americans, we hear the alluring phrase “Limited-Time Offer” frequently. Often such enticements are attached to special deals on hotel rooms, vacations, flights, or large-ticket products. If you doubt our love for taking advantage of limited-time opportunities as a culture, wake up before the sun on Black Friday and see the throngs drawn to such deals (my husband and high school boys included).

Hidden within the dark clouds of suffering are a few limited-time-only offers that offer perspective to our experiences of suffering on this earth. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, suffering will be no more. When the Apostle John recorded the glorious words he heard and visions he saw during his exile on the island of Patmos, he assured us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). While it is right and good to hang our hope on such potent promises, it is easy to miss some significant implications.

The God of All Comfort

Our time on earth is the only time we will be able to experience the comfort of God and subsequently offer comfort to others. Comfort is necessitated by discomfort, the presence of pain, or a lack of ease. In the presence of the Triune God, we will never lack security. During our time on earth, we are uniquely poised to receive comfort from the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Having received such comfort in all our afflictions, we are entrusted with another limited-time-opportunity: to comfort one another with the comfort we have received (2 Cor. 1:4-5).

The sigh of relief that comes when we proverbially crawl into the lap of the Father who holds us and quiets us with his love is birthed out of the temporary discomforts of being away from his presence (Heb. 4:14-16; Zeph. 3:17; Ps. 131:2).

Hope has an Expiration Date

The human propensity to hope is astonishing even to those outside the faith. Accounts of survivors from concentration camps repeatedly recognize the power of hope, even amidst atrocious evil and horrendous circumstances. As Emily Dickinson so beautifully writes, “Hope is the thing with feathers -/ that perches in the soul- / and sings the tune without the words- / and never stops – at all.”

I would add “In this life.”

In the New Heavens and the New Earth, there will be no need for hope for the flower of faith will comes to full fruition in sight! As Paul said to the Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:24-25).

Our time here on earth is our only chance to practice lifting our eyes to the mountains from whence shall come our help (Ps. 121). When we are like him, seeing him as he is, we will have no need for hope (1 John 3: 2).

A Chance to Show Our Preference for God Over Sin

During our time on earth we are saved from the penalty and power of sin, not from the presence of it. Only in the New Heavens and the New Earth will we finally and fully be saved from even the presence of sin. This means that our days of exile here are our only opportunity to show Christ that we prefer him over sin and the fleeting pleasures of this earth. To be clear, he must be prior in our lives to enable us to prefer him since apart from him, we can do no good (John 15:5). Even so, I long to live a life worthy of the calling I have received. I long to string together days and moments which show Christ his surpassing worth even over the greatest offerings of this world (Phil. 3:8).

Likeness to Our Suffering Savior

Finally, and most importantly, our days on this broken earth are our only chance to share in the suffering nature of our Savior. As paradoxical as it sounds to our flesh, God grants us the gift of being partakers in his suffering (Phil. 1:29). When we suffer for doing what is right, we share in his likeness and show our semblance to our Savior (1 Pet. 4:16-19).

The fullest picture we have of God is Christ on the Cross, the suffering savior whom Isaiah foretold. This means that God’s glory is inextricably bound up with suffering. To be a partaker of his glory is to be a sharer in his suffering.

In a book entitled Suffering is Never for Nothing, published posthumously after her death, Elisabeth Elliot writes in depth about the mysterious gifts of suffering. Speaking of the martyring of her first husband, she says, “Jim’s absence thrust me, forced me, hurried me to God, my hope and my only refuge. And I learned in that experience who God is…. And so I can say to you that suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth.”

Endless days of wholeness and satisfaction in the presence of our Savior await those who are in Christ. But there are only limited days to know his comfort, to experience hope, to show preference to him over sin, and to meet him in his suffering.

Let’s not miss these limited-time opportunities!

A Very Different David

In our culture and in our flesh, we love flashy beginnings. As of this year, the wedding industry brought in a staggering $57.9 billion dollars. We love a good grand opening or ribbon cutting. But biblically-speaking, how people end their lives is far more significant than how they begin.

Often, when we think of King David, we imagine him standing with his sling before a toppled Goliath. Or we think of him being set apart as the future king and selected from among his older brothers by Samuel. Perhaps we think of his massive failures which included adultery, murder, and cover-up. Maybe we remember him fleeing from his life from his best friend’s maniacal father, hiding in caves.

While David’s entire life is both fascinating and instructing, I find the David at the end of his life most compelling and comforting. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows at the end of David’s life. In fact, the aged, well-seasoned David continued to struggle with sin.

David’s Latter Days

In 1 Chronicles 21, Satan incited David, through his pride, to instigate a census of Israel. While that does not sound like the stuff of scandal or sin to us, the scheme was a prideful attempt to show his power and prowess as a leader. Joab, the leader of Israel’s army, sought to warn him against this selfish scheme, saying, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (1 Chron. 21: 3).

Even Joab’s cunning appeal which sought to steer David’s decision through his idolatry of pride and power failed; for “the king’s word prevailed against Joab” (1 Chron. 21:4). David would have his way, would force his will, and his people would experience the consequences. At this point in his life, we wonder if David will ever learn his lessons.

Thankfully, the Scriptures don’t leave us with this David. The same David whose heart was pricked by the skillful prodding of Nathan and whose repentance penned Psalm 51 received the Lord’s correction. He recognized the staggering effects his selfishness had on the people whom he was supposed to be serving.

“And David said to God, ‘Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please, let your hand, O Lord, my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.’ (1 Chron. 21:17).

In fact, in the very place where the angel of the Lord graciously relented of the plague (the threshing field of Ornan), David devised an elaborate plan to build a temple to the Lord’s name and for the Lord’s glory.

Do you see what I see? Do you see a very different David?

A Very Different David

Yes, he still messed up royally (pun intended) even when he was well-advanced in the process of maturing in the Lord. But I find his repentance and recognition of sin to be a powerful encouragement.

He went from being the kind of man who, though owning flocks of sheep, would steal the one beloved sheep of another man (Nathan’s story which convicted David of his sin with Bathsheba) to the kind of shepherd who says, “Punish me, not the sheep.”

He went from slyly stealing that which was not his (an abuse of his power and position as king) to paying full price to Ornan for the land which would be reserved for God’s temple (1 Chron. 21:22–24).

He went from wanting to count heads to ensure his own enduring legacy to spending the rest of his life making elaborate plans to ensure the legacy of God’s great name. He went from forcing his own will and plans and desires to accepting the Lord’s will, plans, and desires, even when those shattered his own. Multiple times at the end of his life, and once in front of the gathered people of Israel, David showed that God’s will carried far more weight than his own (1 Chron. 22:6–10; 1 Chron. 28:2–8).

He admitted the depth of his own desire to build the Temple for God himself, but he also submitted to God who said his son would be the one to build the Temple. Rather than push though, chasing his own desire, or sit and pout, David poured himself into preparations for the Temple. He had blueprints drawn up, he gathered all the building materials, he coached up his son, Solomon.

David learned his lessons. It took an entire lifetime, but he learned. This gives me great comfort. For the same master who trained David trains us. This reality left me in tears as I studied the end of 1 Chronicles this week.

Glory to the Master, Not the Pupil

God’s disciples will learn their lessons (Luke 6:40). God will finish the work he began in us (Phil. 1:6).

As a woman who sees the scary strength of her own will and longs to place more weight on God’s better will than my own, the mastery of the Master gives me hope.

As a mother of teenagers who is constantly wondering when my children will learn, the mastery of the Master settles my worried heart.

As the wife of a pastor who seeks to shepherd a young flock in an arid spiritual terrain in the midst of massive cultural and spiritual warfare, the mastery of the Master emboldens me to stay the course.

Stay the course, my sin-weary and world-weary friends. Trust your Master and teacher. Receive his discipline as true sons and daughters (Hebrews 12: 5–11). Don’t begin to believe the lie that he is a hard master. Trust his heart for you is for your good and his glory.

A Conversation about Confidence

Faith, trust, and confidence. In both the Old and New Testament, these words share common root words (in Hebrew, batach and in Greek, pistis). While I am admittedly a word-nerd, these root words are truly at the root of the Christian life. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

Life with God hinges on our faith. Thus, trust is paramount. The direction of our trust determines our confidence. The vulnerability of the object of our trust will determine the vulnerability of our confidence.

A Conversation Then

Though this reality is laced through the entirety of Scripture, God has a concise conversation about confidence with his struggling prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is often nick-named the weeping prophet, as he penned both Jeremiah and Lamentations, which are books woven with great woe. But he had every reason to weep as a prophet raised up in a particularly dark season in the history of God’s people. As such and understandably so, Jeremiah often found himself lamenting and complaining before God. After one such session, God responds to Jeremiah with a powerful word picture about confidence and trust.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the steam and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.’ (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

The communicator par excellence, God knew that a picture is worth a thousand words. As such, he draws a verbal juxtaposition for Jeremiah between trusting in God or trusting in man and made things.

As someone who lives in an arid climate during a time of drought near an actual salt sea, I can tell you I don’t want to be the first shrub. But so often I find myself trending in that direction. I so easily let me trust leak all over to lesser things. I trust in my schedule. I trust in my performance. I trust in my effort and grit. I trust in my husband. I trust in my children. I trust in our government system. The list goes on and on.

But we are invited to trust in an unshakeable God. We are made for trust in the Trustworthy One. When our soul seeks satisfaction and security in Him (rather than self or circumstances), we have access to the river whose steams make glad the city of God (Psalm 46:4). As those made right with God, we are invited to abide in Christ which means that we have a settled security in Him (John 15).

The word picture is compelling. But you and I both know that living such confidence in God is complicated, isn’t it?

A Conversation Now

God gave me a little picture of confidence this week in a few strange crevices of my home. You see, I do not like spiders. But Annie Dillard did a number on me in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“I allow spiders the run of the house. I figure that any predator that hopes to make a living on whatever smaller creatures might blunder into a four-inch square bit of space in the corner of the bathroom where the tub meets the floor, needs every bit of my support.”

Ever since reading her, I have mixed emotions when I see a spider. My instincts say, “Squash the sucker!” but my heart says, “Live like Annie.” Thus, I have grown to be a close watcher of two particular spiders in my home: one on a planter in the front yard and the other in the back. When I water my plants, I watch in wonder as they go about their web-making work.

If I wanted to, I could blow hard enough and break their lives’ work. I could put the hose on the jet setting and destroy their entire world. As strong as their webs may be, they are but threads compared to human strength. And the distance and difference between me and the spider is nothing compared to the distance and difference between my Maker and me.

All the places I place my confidence are but fragile filaments compared to trust in God. My spider friend and I have similar trust problems.

To a Spider

Though you long have startled me,
We share more than I once thought.
We both trust in silky threads-
A practice with danger fraught.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend –
Your woven web is a wonder!
But all your exquisite work – 
It’s so easily torn asunder.

You teach me not to trust 
Webs of my own weaving;
They appear so intricate,
But looks can be deceiving.

Belayed to the Blessed One,
Tho’ every strand be swept,
Though all shake around me,
Yet by my Maker I am kept.

I’m sorry, many-legged friend;
You’ve not such a strong hope.
You have left me with a lesson;
I’ll gladly leave you to your rope! 

Spiders and trees are training me to trust in the Strong and Unshakeable One!